Reports on “danger of energy drinks” stimulate Australian concerns

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 17th January 2013

A report just out of the US is highlighting a surge in the number of hospital emergency admissions involving energy drinks. The news is stirring up Australian discussions surrounding such beverages.

In the January 2013 issue of the American Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) Report, published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, energy drinks have been attributed as the cause of over 20,000 emergency department visits in the US.

Energy drinks contain substantial amounts of caffeine (including caffeine from guarana) and there are classes of consumers for whom consumption in large doses can pose significant cardiovascular risks.

When consumption of such drinks is mixed with consumption of alcohol, the risks appear to be exacerbated.

Previously reported in Australian Food News, a 2012 University of Tasmania study raised concerns that consuming caffeinated alcoholic beverages leads to “potential increases in maladaptive drinking practices, negative psychological and physiological intoxication side effects, and risky behavioural outcomes”.

Caffeinated alcoholic beverages (CABs) have also been found, by several studies, to contribute to arrhythmia, severe dehydration, and erratic behaviour.

The January 2013 DAWN report out of the US said that 13% of the energy drink-related emergency department visits also included alcohol.

In June 2012, Australian Food News reported on findings concerning the death of Melbourne teenager Sara Milosevic following consumption of three cans of a caffeinated alcoholic beverage.

Current regulation of energy drinks in Australia

In Australia, caffeine is considered a food additive and is regulated under the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code. Standard 2.6.4 limits the maximum amount of caffeine to 320 mg per litre and requires additional labelling advising that the products are not suitable for young children, pregnant or lactating women and “individuals sensitive to caffeine”.

Under the Standard, the container of the energy drink must also include an advisory statement recommending consumption to a limit of 500ml (two cans) a day.

Questions are being asked as to whether labelling laws are a solution. After all, who reads the fine print on a coloured can in the dark of the night? Moreover, if a young adult on a hot evening has never previously over-indulged in drinking a mix of alcohol with a sweet drink, there may not be any prior history of cardiac arrhythmia or an awareness of that individual’s sensitivity to caffeine. What will stop a young adult drinking more than two cans of a caffeinated beverage in quick succession?

Further review of laws in Australia

Australia’s Legislative Governance Forum on Food Regulation (the Forum) has recently commenced a full review of the 2003 Policy Guideline on caffeine in foods and beverages.

The Forum is expected to make that review available for public consultation in March 2013.

An investigation into the prevalence of energy drinks mixed with alcohol is currently also underway in New South Wales with results scheduled for release by mid-February 2013.

Earlier in 2011, the government of Western Australia banned the sale of alcohol mixed with energy drinks in clubs after midnight.